NCAA Approves Scholarship Increases and Multiyear Grants for Athletes

College athletes will soon be able to receive heftier—and lengthier—athletic scholarships under several new policies the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors approved Thursday.

The board took swift action on a wide-ranging agenda at its fall meeting in Indianapolis: In addition to approving the changes to athletic scholarships, board members also adopted stricter academic standards for freshman athletes and those who transfer in from two-year colleges, and settled on a timeline for implementing a new policy that requires Division I teams to meet an academic cutoff before taking part in postseaon play.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the policy changes would put “real meat” behind a sweeping agenda that emerged in August following a summit of college presidents. “It was, in short, one of the most aggressive and fullest agendas the Division I board has ever faced,” Emmert said Thursday in a phone call with reporters. “They moved with dispatch on all of these questions, and the impact is going to be very, very important for all of our schools and all of our conferences.”

But he cautioned that the Board’s approval of the measure aimed at closing the gap between athletic scholarships and the cost of attendance—the new policy allows athletes to receive up to $2,000 more a year in institutional aid—was not a substitute for paying players.

“This most certainly is not pay-for-play,” Emmert said.

Sidney McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State and vice-chair of the NCAA group charged with drafting proposals to address the scholarship changes, said the board’s attention to that issue mirrored efforts elsewhere in academe to beef up awards to attract key students.

The group, McPhee said, “saw this as very much consistent with what institutions have done in adjusting other types of academic scholarships.”

“This is not unusual in higher education,” McPhee added. “It’s unusual that the NCAA and college athletics haven’t looked at it in decades. We do it quite regularly on our campuses to be competitive.”

The change to multiyear awards means that athletic departments will soon be allowed to offer athletes scholarships for durations of more than a year. (Currently, programs may only offer one-year, renewable grants.) Colleges would still be able to revoke scholarships for legitimate reasons, and students could still appeal a cut scholarship as they do now.

New policies governing academic eligibility for new athletes will increase minimum grade-point averages and test scores for freshmen and athletes who transfer from two-year colleges. They would also allow some new athletes to have an “academic red-shirt” year, in which they would be eligible to receive a scholarship and practice with a team, but unable to compete.

The board also set forth a timeline for colleges to comply with a new rule, adopted in August, that requires teams to meet a benchmark academic-progress rate of 930 in order to compete in the postseason. Programs will have four years to meet this new requirement. (Emmert added that if the new policy had been in place for the last bowl season and men’s basketball tournament, a total of 15 teams would not have been eligible to participate.)

In coming months, the board is expected to take up several other major proposals to overhaul the NCAA’s massive rulebook, reduce scholarships in key sports, and realign the process by which the association enforces its many rules.

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